Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 17
Is A.A. based totally on your own experiences?
Let’s look. Dr. Bob recovered. Then we two set to work on alcoholics in Akron. Well, again came this tendency to preach, again this feeling that it has to be done in some particular way, again discouragement, so our progress was slow. But little by little we were forced to analyze our experiences and say, “This approach didn’t work very well with that fellow. Why not? Let’s try to put ourselves in his shoes and stop this preaching and see how he might be approached if we were he.” That began to lead us to the idea that A.A. should be no set of fixed ideas, but should be a growing thing, growing out of experience. After a while we began to reflect: “This wonderful blessing that has come to us, from what does it get its origin?” It was a spiritual awakening growing out of adversity. So then we began to look harder for our mistakes, to correct them, to capitalize on our errors. Little by little we began to grow so that there were 5 of us at the end of that first year; at the end of the second year 15; at the end of the third 40; and at the end of the fourth year, 100.
During those first four years most of us had another bad form of intolerance. As we commenced to have a little success, I am afraid our pride got the better of us and it was our tendency to forget about our friends. We were very likely to say, “Well, those doctors didn’t do anything for us, and as for these sky pilots, well, they just don’t know the score.” And we became snobbish and patronizing.
Then we read a book by Dr. Carrell (Man, The Unknown). From that book came an argument which is now a part of our system. Dr. Carrel wrote, in effect; The world is full of analysts. We have tons of ore in the mines and we have all kinds of building materials above ground. Here is a man specializing in this, there is a man specializing in that, and another one in something else. The modern world is full of wonderful analysts and diggers, but there are very few who deliberately synthesize, who bring together different materials, who assemble new things. We are much too shy on synthetic thinking – the kind of thinking that’s willing to reach out now here and now there to see if something new cannot be evolved.
On reading that book some of us realized that was just what we had been groping toward. We had been trying to build out of our own experiences. At this point we thought, “Let’s reach into other people’s experiences. Let’s go back to our friends the doctors, let’s go back to our friends the preachers, the social workers, all those who have been concerned with us, and again review what they have got above ground and bring that into the synthesis. And let us, where we can, bring them in where they will fit.” So our process of trial and error began and at the end of four years, the material was cast in the form of a book known as Alcoholics Anonymous. (Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, June 1945)